April 2002 

No to Chirac and Le Pen! Sweep Away the Fascist Thugs May 1! 
Boycott the Elections May 5! 

France 1935–2002: 
The Popular Front Opens the Door 
to Fascist Reaction 
Fight for Workers Revolution!

Build a Real Leninist-Trotskyist Party!

The outcome of the first round of the French presidential elections sent shock waves around the world. After a lackluster campaign in which the main candidates of the right and “left” ran on barely distinguishable programs, those who came out ahead at the polls were the conservative incumbent president Jacques Chirac and the fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen. “Socialist” prime minister Lionel Jospin finished third with barely a sixth of the votes. As preliminary vote totals were announced on television, many stared in disbelief; in Paris and other cities, thousands of youth surged into the streets to say “No to Le Pen.” Protests soon grew to tens of thousands and continued during the week; mass demonstrations are scheduled for April 27, April 28 and May 1. Meanwhile, calls are multiplying to get the largest possible score for Chirac in the second-round runoff elections on May 5. But voting for any candidate of a bourgeois party or class-collaborationist coalition will not stop the fascist menace. It is necessary to mobilize the power of the working class to boycott the electoral circus of the bourgeoisie and sweep away the fascist thugs of capital. 

Youth, immigrants and militant workers are rightly outraged at the ominous showing by the fascist National Front (FN). Le Pen and his cohorts are not a “current of opinion” but the political front for racist shock troops of reaction who would annihilate immigrants, the left and labor. They must be crushed before it is too late. But the utterly correct desire to put a stop to these racist killers is being manipulated into building support for the notoriously corrupt rightist Chirac in the name of “defense of the Republic.” “Vote for the crook, not the fascist,” say demonstrators’ signs. The League for the Fourth International warns that this call for a “Republican front” against the National Front is a dead-end. Chirac will implement much of the reactionary program of Le Pen, just as the reformist Jospin took up the racist campaign theme of “security” (code word for cop attacks on youth and immigrants in the name of fighting “crime”).

Working people, immigrants and youth must say no to Chirac and Le Pen, and break with the reformist social-democrats and pseudo-communists who paved the way for this lurch to the right. The answer to the fascist danger will not be given by voting for an arch-conservative for president or building a “united left” for the legislative elections. “Popular fronts” of reformist workers parties with small bourgeois “left” formations such as the Greens and Left Radicals bind the workers and oppressed to their class enemy. Class-conscious workers must instead build a revolutionary workers party on the Bolshevik program of Lenin and Trotsky. And the next time Le Pen tries to parade his racist thugs – on May 1, when FN paramilitary units provocatively march under the nationalist symbol of Joan of Arc in opposition to the international workers day – the racist vermin should be swept from the streets of Paris by an overwhelming force of organized workers power! And the day of the vote, there should be workers demonstrations and strikes repudiating the capitalist electoral farce which offers the “choice” between two reactionary millionaires.

The first-round election results were a stunning slap in the face to the popular-front government which has been in office for the last five years. Like Tony Blair’s “New Labor” government in Britain, Jospin’s government of the “plural left” carried out the program of the right. Jospin undertook more privatizations than his conservative predecessor, joined the U.S. and NATO in waging imperialist war on Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, and unleashed police persecution of immigrants and youths in the bleak suburban housing projects symbolized by Operation Vigipirate. The vote for Chirac and Le Pen was also part of a right-wing wave across Europe with fascist parties brought into coalition governments in Austria and Italy, as well as big votes for parties of virulent anti-“foreigner” chauvinism in Switzerland and Denmark. In the Netherlands the party of immigrant-basher Pim Fortuyn threatens to make advances in upcoming legislative elections. As corruption scandals multiply, the stage is set for a new “Stavisky affair” as in the early 1930s, when fascist and royalist militias in France joined forces to attack the workers and the left.

Underlying this ominous advance of rightist reaction is the persistence of double-digit joblessness for more than a decade under social-democratic or popular-front governments of the left in much of West Europe. As anger burgeoned among workers, youth, teachers, the unemployed and other hard-hit sectors, all the parties of Jospin’s government suffered losses in the April 21 first-round French presidential vote. The reformist Communist Party (PCF), whose vote fell to under 3.5 percent, is heading toward extinction. On the other hand, three candidates claiming (falsely) to be Trotskyist garnered more than 10 percent of the ballots between them. Yet the more than a million votes each for Arlette Laguiller of Lutte Ouvrière (LO) and Olivier Besancenot of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), and the candidacy of the Parti des Travailleurs (PT), far from presenting a revolutionary opposition to the class-collaborationist popular front, were essentially a protest vote intended to “send a message” and put pressure on Jospin & Co. to shift to the left. These candidacies did not present a class opposition to the imperialist war and its internal front (the campaign about “security”); at most they sought a more “social” and “independent” policy for French imperialism. (See our article, Elections de guerre raciste en France).

The government of the “plural left” was put in office in order to drain off the working-class militancy which dramatically exploded in the massive strikes of December 1995. Once it has rendered its service to capital of demoralizing the working class, it is unceremoniously dismissed by the ruling class. This is the history of a century of popular frontism, from Millerand at the beginning of the 1900s to Mitterrand and Jospin at the end. As we wrote in our article “Popular Front Chains the Workers” (The Internationalist No. 2, April-May 1997): 

“In reality, such coalitions with the bourgeoisie – the classic example being the Popular Front which arose in the 1930s – serve above all to strangle the struggles of the workers and oppressed against their exploiters and oppressors. Far from blocking the fascists, the popular front serves as a roadblock to revolution, and thus prepares the way for the victory of capitalist reaction. Defending the fundamental Marxist principle of the political independence of the working class, Trotskyists call for proletarian opposition to the popular front and no vote to any candidate of class-collaborationist coalitions.”
In the 1930s, the Popular Front cabinet of Léon Blum dissipated the revolutionary energies of the general strike of June 1936; nine months later, police massacred anti-fascist protesters at Clichy. As disenchantment spread among the workers, Socialist premier Blum gave way to the bourgeois Radical Edouard Daladier, who in turn was relieved of duty by the bonapartist dictatorship of Marshal Henri-Philippe Pétain. Today Jospin cedes to Chirac, with Le Pen waiting in the wings.

The former paratrooper and torturer of Algerian independence fighters Jean-Marie Le Pen is an admirer of Pétain’s World War II regime at Vichy. Le Pen praises the trinity “Work, Family, Fatherland,” which was the watchword of Hitler ally Pétain’s “French state” that replaced the Third Republic and “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.” The FN Führer has also infamously declared the Nazi Holocaust of Jews a mere “detail of history” while proclaiming the “inequality of races.” The FN program calls for authorizing police to shoot whenever they feel endangered, bringing back the death penalty, the “effective expulsion of clandestine immigrants” and that “legal immigration will be totally prohibited”. He has taken up the “anti-globalization” banner in the name of national sovereignty, wants to rescue Quebec and Louisiana from Anglo-Saxon influence, and calls to organize a “national guard of volunteers” (i.e., storm troopers). The areas where FN influence has risen have seen attacks on Jewish syngagogues and cemeteries, as well as against North African immigrants. The fascist danger represented by Le Pen is very real.

Leon Trotsky warned in his article, “France at the Turning Point” (March 1936): “The People’s Front, the conspiracy between the labor bureaucracy and the worst political exploiters of the middle classes, is capable only of killing the faith of the masses in the revolutionary road and of driving them into the arms of the fascist counterrevolution.” A few months later, in July 1936, as the Francoists were rising up against the Spanish Popular Front, Trotsky also warned against those centrists and left-talking reformists who “peddle their wares in the shadow of the Popular Front.” Today, the parliamentary cretinists of LO, LCR and PT work the fringes of the latter-day popular front, and as the latter has lost steam, the outcome is the ascent of the fascist Le Pen. The League for the Fourth International warned of this danger in refusing to give electoral support, however “critical,” to any of the fake-Trotskyist candidates whose program consisted of pressuring Jospin & Co. to the left. Instead, it’s necessary to prepare a revolutionary struggle to replace the bourgeois parliamentary government of the “plural left” with a workers government based on workers councils (soviets). 

Now the sizable pseudo-Trotskyist organizations are squirming because their little game blew up in their face. Most of the criticism directed against them is utterly cynical: the ex-Maoist editor of Libération, Serge July, lectures Laguiller about lack of commitment to “democracy” because LO still claims to support the dictatorship of the proletariat; the Communist Party denounces Trotskyists for opening the door to fascism by presenting candidates (the PCF also ran its own candidate). Now the PS is rent by internecine squabbling; the PCF is bankrupt (financially and politically) and moribund; and the LO/LCR/PT are building “anti-fascist” protests in the streets to raise votes for Chirac. Laguiller begins her April 22 statement on the election: “I do not call for abstention on the second round of the presidential election.” That means vote for…who? She doesn’t say, but anyone can decipher her call. LO calls for “broad participation” in all the demonstrations against Le Pen and the far right, but claims it won’t support those whose aim is to support Chirac or a “Republican front.” Yet that is precisely the purpose of all the marches, whether they say so explicitly or not. 

For its part, an April 22 statement by the Political Bureau of the LCR goes on about how the vote for Le Pen is a “political earthquake” causing “traumatism” for millions of people. It ends by saying, “We understand the voters who are voting for Chirac in order to oppose Le Pen,” while lamely adding that the LCR doesn’t think that Chirac is the “rampart” to battle the far right. The LCR statement attacks the FN chief for his support of privatization and anti-social legislation, but says nothing about his racist attacks on youth and immigrants. With their calls for a new “party of the working people” (or of the “world of labor”), LO and the LCR are clearly chasing after former PCF voters who backed Le Pen. With their demonstrations under the watchword “tous ensemble contre Le Pen” (all together against Le Pen), they are organizing extraparliamentary support for the “Republican front” for Chirac, with only the most transparent fig leaf of “independence” from the candidate of big capital. While Jospin warns of violence if protests continue, the tame parties of the “far left” pointedly do not call for driving Le Pen’s thugs off the streets. We, on the other hand, call for dispersing the fascist bands and boycotting the phony elections.

What happens next in France will have repercussions throughout Europe. If battalions of workers cleanse the streets of Paris of the DPS and UMI private armies of the National Front, if there are strikes and demonstrations against the electoral farce on May 5, the impact will be felt immediately in Italy, for example, where more than 3 million workers have struck and demonstrated against the vicious anti-labor measures of the rightist government of sinister media magnate Berlusconi and the fascist Fini. But if a couple of weeks of demonstrations are followed by a big vote for Chirac, it will only strengthen the reactionary right. Above all, the bankruptcy of the reformist PCF and the PS, with its legions of ex-pseudo-Trotskyists, and the tailist pressure politics of the LO/LCR/PT underline the necessity of building a real Leninist-Trotskyist party of the proletarian vanguard. Vague talk of a “party of the working people” means a pot pourri of every variety of opportunist and a lowest-common-denominator reformist program. This may provide a home for burned out 68ers but cannot possibly lead the multiethnic working class of France and Europe in a revolutionary fight for power. A genuinely communist party which fights for a Socialist United States of Europe can only be built in the struggle to reforge the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.

26 April 2002

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com